USEF National Young Dressage Horse Coach Scott Hassler’s Vision for Young Horses

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Written by kelly-s
Scott Hassler looks on during the Markel/USEF Young Horse Selection Trials at Flintridge
Scott Hassler looks on during the Markel/USEF Young Horse Selection Trials at Flintridge

DresssageDaily reporter Kelly Sanchez presents this in depth article of the program, its challenges, and strengths.
Get Scott Hassler talking about young horses, and his passion and enthusiasm practically spills out of him. He’ll tell you how young horses are just like school kids, how trainers need a good support system and how, despite its critics, the U.S. young horse program is a success. The USEF National Young Dressage Horse coach has been on hand for the Markel/USEF Central, Western, and Eastern Selection Trials for Young Horses offering support and guidance to the combinations competing in the 5- and 6-year-old classes. “I think the Young Horse Program is in a very healthy place,” says Hassler, who joined the program as coach in 2005. “It’s far from perfect, but I think we can keep tweaking it.

In the first two Selection Trials, we qualified two horses for the FEI World Breeding Championships in Verden [Emily Wagner and Wakeup and Sabine Schut-Kery and Sanceo], which is great. But I get a lot of criticism that these classes are a joke and that we’re never going to see these horses again. My comment back is that’s a pretty harsh statement. I see it as an issue of maturity—the program’s only been around 10 years. But if we’re going to push things and be critical, then please show me the Pan American Games horses that are going Grand Prix on our teams—that’s an even closer step. We are seeing the Young Horses going to the Developing Horses—believe me, I’m looking at those numbers. Success to me is not a score achieved in a 5- and 6-year-old class. Success is that we’re seeing horses go down the pipeline and be successful on our future teams.

“I also get a lot of questions, like ‘Why aren’t we seeing more horses in the program?’” he continues. “For the last couple of years, on the national ranking list for Young Horses, about 150 of them have scored 7.2 or higher, and that doesn’t include all those who tried and didn’t get a 7.2, and I’m guessing that’s between 50 and 100 horses. The program is bigger than it appears. The goal is to bring out these horses and develop them properly. It’s a very good sign that we’re seeing that number of horses. It could always be better—we’ll continue to strive to be better.”

Launched in 2001, the program was designed in part to “encourage the properly structured development of young dressage prospects through the training scale; to identify and recognize outstanding talent and the training of international-caliber horses; and to prepare these horses for future careers at the FEI level and participation on U.S. High Performance teams.”

The program had been existence for several years when Hassler came on board, and there was a lot of buzz surrounding it. He admits that there were bigger numbers of horses competing in the selection trials in those early days, but he points out that the National Young Horse Dressage Championships are now a serious goal for many. “The World Breeding Championships [in Verden] is not the main theme on people’s minds—it’s kind of special and suited to unique combinations,” he says. “I see so many horses in my training sessions that I advise not to do these Young Horse classes—the best route for that horse is to give it more time. Our goal is that we get horses developed properly—that’s the most important thing.”

Guidance Is Key
For Hassler, the key to the program is bringing horses into the show ring. “Last year at the Markel/USEF National Young Horse Dressage Championships, which is also the Developing Horse Championships, 50 percent of the horses on the ranking list were graduates of the Young Horse program.” He envisions a thriving national network of what he calls “trainers/advisors.” As he puts it, “It’s important that we can pass these horses along from guidance to guidance—I don’t want to say trainer to trainer, because we’re really guiders as much as trainers. As an example here, it was such a pleasure to be with Sabine and Christine [Schut-Kery’s coach, Christine Traurig]. It’s about teamwork. Christine’s a fabulous trainer, and she can turn to me and say, ‘What do you think?’ It’s fun—that’s the way it should be.”

In Hassler’s mind, there are three options for owners of young horses: the Markel/USEF Young Horse program; no shows at all; and regular classes. “There’s not one of those three that’s more prestigious than the other,” he emphasizes. “It’s what’s the right choice for the horse.”

Young horses require specialized skill, patience and maturity on the part of their handlers and trainers. “Finding the right balance is critical,” Hassler says. “You see people who are too loving and too forgiving and people who take it too far, who want to control every single step they take. It’s about the middle ground, where there are boundaries but the horses don’t feel restricted, they don’t feel told what to do all the time, they are ridden forward and free, but they can still be playful and enthusiastic. This is an age where they’re going through a lot, and it can be a claustrophobic moment when they’re learning compression and connection and how to bend and use their bodies. If it’s done right early, it’s so much easier later. Horses are like kids in a classroom, and I think the most beautiful teachers are those who can recognize that Timmy over there is pretty shy and needs to be drawn out a little. And Eric over there is pretty aggressive—he cuts in the lunch line, he pushes others around, he’s the ringleader. He needs a little bit of a half halt; he needs more boundaries. That’s what we’re doing with these horses: We’re recognizing their strengths and weaknesses. Young horses need boundaries and clarity, or it can get dangerous. I love trying to read them and guessing what they’re going to do and learning from it—every day is a learning day.”

The Young Dressage Horse Trainers Symposium
For the past six years, Hassler has organized the Young Dressage Horse Trainers Symposium, which started when he and his wife, Susanne, were head trainers at Hilltop Farm in Maryland. It’s now hosted every November at the couple’s Hassler Dressage at Riveredge, in Chesapeake City, MD. “It’s something we love doing,” he says. “In Europe you know where the good young horse riders are, so we decided to find a few talented trainers around the country to whom we could recommend our breeders send their horses. We thought we’d take three or four riders, and they’d come and ride our horses and we’d work with them for four or five days. We got 340 applicants in year one—we were blown away!”

The training content is a critical piece to the Symposium, but Hassler says there’s more to it than training horses. “It’s about community and camaraderie and knowing that we’re all in this game together. A lot of these trainers are younger trainers, and when you’re in your barn day to day with your group around you, it can be a lonely, frustrating, sometimes isolating place, so it’s great to get to a group where you truly feel you’re not being judged, where you can talk about something you’re facing with a client, how to get through a situation, how to stay positive and focus when it seems like half your barn is going lame. This is an emotional business, there’s no way around it, and I believe that the more balanced the trainers are in their lives, the more it benefits the horses.”

The Challenge of the Young Horse Classes
When it comes to emotions, one of the trickier parts to the Young Horse Classes are the public comments by the judges, which are announced at the conclusion of the test for the rider and spectators to hear. “It’s probably the hardest part of the Young Horse Program,” Hassler notes. “It has upset people enough that they won’t do it again, and that’s unfortunate. The judges, of course, feel that they have a responsibility, and if it’s all sugar-coated, then it’s not meaningful. I think we have judges who are really, really gifted at commenting, and people who are not so gifted at commenting. Sometimes I think it would be easier to just announce the score; on the other hand, people want to hear the comments. It’s a Catch-22. We have to be careful about using the sensitive words, the life-threatening words, like ‘lateral walk,’ and also very, very careful not to come across like the judges are giving a riding lesson—anything related to the rider, like ‘your hands were blocking this’ or somehow suggesting that the rider caused something that was going on, is not appropriate. Some people can say the most negative thing in a positive way, and some people can’t.”

A Judge’s Perspective

Judges Natalie Lamping and Jayne Ayers look on as Silva Martin and Asthete
Judges Natalie Lamping and Jayne Ayers look on as Silva Martin and Asthete

Natalie Lamping, who judged the Young Horse Selection Trial at Flintridge as well as in Illinois and will travel to Virginia for the third and final trial in June, says she loves the opportunity to officiate at the Young Horse Classes but agrees that the public comments in the Young Horse Classes often strike a nerve with riders. “But you have to be fair to the rider and be really real in your scoring,” she says. “It seems in the sport of dressage that most people have a hard time hearing the truth. We judge what they show us at that moment in time. We all hope for the best. There’s a kind way to say something, and there’s bad luck too—the horse shies, the horse is naughty—but that’s life.”

A Competitor’s Perspective

Sherry Van’t Riet and Sir Deauville
Sherry Van’t Riet and Sir Deauville

Sherry Van’t Riet competed in the Selection Trial for 6-year-olds with her Oldenburg Sir Deauville, but fell short of the 7.2 score required to qualify for the National Championships (the World Breeding Championships require a minimum score of 8.2) in part when her horse missed their first lead change and leaped into the air. Despite her disappointment, she said she was grateful for the experience. “I’m really open to any suggestions. Any of this information I take to heart, and I appreciate it. It’s like when I go to a clinic: I go to learn. I don’t go to show off. What’s the point of that? How can you learn if you’re only showing the stuff that you do really well? When the judges were telling me about my horse, I was nodding my head. He did what he did!”

World Equestrian Games 2014

Thursday, September 18, 2014 - 13:23
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Tuesday, September 9, 2014 - 12:20
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Eventing

Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - 10:21
Classic Communications
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Monday, November 24, 2014 - 12:13
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Monday, November 17, 2014 - 13:51
Anna Sharpley, FEI Communications
Twenty-two-year-old Jessica Manson withstood the pressure applied by Olympian and former Adelaide champion Megan Jones, posting a super clear round aboard her 13-year-old Australian Stock Horse, Legal Star, to win the second leg of the FEI Classics™ at the Australian International 3 Day Event.
 
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Saturday, November 15, 2014 - 10:42
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Saturday, November 15, 2014 - 09:57
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Reining and Western Riding

Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - 10:16
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Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - 10:08
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Oklahoma City, OK - The atmosphere was electrifying at the 2014 American Quarter Horse World Championship Show. On Nov. 15 the Jim Norick Arena at the Oklahoma State Fair Park welcomed not only the best reiners in the business, but also six high performance para-equestrians to demonstrate the developing discipline of para-reining, including two-...
Wednesday, November 19, 2014 - 09:32
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Oklahoma City, Ok - Para-reining returned November 15 to the 2014 AQHA World Championship Show as a demonstration sport. Six high-level para-dressage riders changed saddles and took a spin on American Quarter Horses in the Jim Norick Coliseum at Oklahoma State Fair Park. Along with a standing ovation from the crowd of reining enthusiasts in...
Tuesday, November 18, 2014 - 06:55
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Wellington, FL - November 17, 2014 - The Florida Gold Coast and the Florida Gulf Coast Quarter Horse Circuit are now accepting applications for vendor space at the 2014-2015 horse shows. The Florida Gold Coast Quarter Horse Circuit, will feature five full American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) Shows at the Bob Thomas Equestrian Center in...
Saturday, November 15, 2014 - 10:51
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Friday, October 31, 2014 - 12:35
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Friday, October 24, 2014 - 15:18
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Driving

Sunday, November 23, 2014 - 09:51
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Friday, October 31, 2014 - 15:13
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Thursday, October 30, 2014 - 09:14
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Tuesday, October 14, 2014 - 12:25
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Monday, October 6, 2014 - 10:09
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Sunday, October 5, 2014 - 10:23
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Show Jumping

Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - 10:31
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Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - 10:00
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Monday, November 24, 2014 - 12:17
Chicago Equestrian
Barrington, IL – Old Barrington Farm welcomes nationally renowned trainer Frank Madden to their farm for a hunter/jumper clinic Saturday, December 6th and Sunday, December 7th, 2014. Madden will teach three sessions each day consisting of 3’ hunters, 3’ jumpers and 3’6” jumpers and equitation. There are a few rider spots open and auditors are...
Monday, November 24, 2014 - 12:04
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Monday, November 24, 2014 - 11:48
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Monday, November 17, 2014 - 14:10
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Monday, November 17, 2014 - 14:04
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Para Dressage

Tuesday, November 11, 2014 - 06:18
  We salute our veterans this Veterans Day. Thank you for protecting our freedoms. On this day we ask you to take a moment to think about those that have served our country. We would like to salute our disabled veterans who are part of not only the equestrian sport but all Paralympic sports. Thank you, - USPEA. We too, at DressageDaily, would like to take a moment to thank all veterans who have served our country to protect our liberties and rights. We truly appreciate all past and current members of our military for all that you do! History of Veterans Day - From the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: World War I - known at the time as "The Great War" - officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versaille...
Tuesday, November 11, 2014 - 05:59
  Gladstone, NJ - As the end of year draws near, The Jonathan Wentz Memorial Challenge for High Performance Para Dressage has raised $615,000 towards its $800,000 goal, however in order to have the funding needed to implement the Para Dressage High Performance program, it needs more support from those in the equestrian community that want to see our Para Dressage riders have the opportunity to achieve competitive excellence in international competition.  The Jonathan Wentz Memorial Challenge is an exciting fundraising initiative that was launched in April thanks to the incredible generosity of Margaret H. Duprey and The Barnfield Foundation. Duprey and The Barnfield Foundation have each pledged up to $200,000, matching dollar for dollar, gift commitments of $4,000 and above, payable over...
Wednesday, November 5, 2014 - 07:38
Written By: Lindsay McCall for the USPEA
U.S. WEG Team Athlete Sydney Collier and her dog Journey. Journey became a media sensation at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. Photo copyright SusanJStickle.com Lexington, KY - November 4, 2014 - The United States Para-Equestrian Association  (USPEA) would like to thank the United States Equestrian Federation ( USEF) for their support of the Para-Dressage Young Rider Program. As a USEF International Discipline Association the USPEA fosters the Para-Equestrian sport from the grassroots to the high performance level. The USPEA was recently awarded a USEF Affiliate Grant. Through this awarded USEF Affiliate Grant, the USPEA is able to further support the discipline at the young rider level. Offering high-level opportunities to young rider para-dressage athletes benefits not only...
Friday, October 31, 2014 - 04:27
Written By: Lindsay Y. McCall
Mary Jordan and Rubicon 75 at the USDF Region 8 Championships presented by New England Dressage Association September 18-21, 2014 (Photo: ©Amy E. Riley/STUDIO EQUUS) Lexington, KY - 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ (WEG) athlete Mary Jordan of Wells, Maine is headed to the 2014 U.S. Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® scheduled for November 6-9, in Lexington, KY. Jordan qualified with Rubicon 75 (Royal-Hit x Edelkarin/Absinthe) at the GAIG/United States Dressage Federation Region 8 Championships presented by New England Dressage Association (NEDA) September 18-21, 2014. Unprecedented, this horse and rider combination is the only Para-Equestrian Dressage duo to win an able-bodied Regional Championship to go to the Finals. Jordan earned her invitation when the pair won the 3rd Le...
Thursday, September 18, 2014 - 13:23
Written By: FEI Communications
Italy’s Sara Morganti has been voted the International Paralympic Committee’s best female Allianz Athlete of the Month for August following her incredible performance at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014 in Normandy (FRA). The Tuscany-born Para-Equestrian Dressage rider scored an outstanding Freestyle Grade 1a gold medal with her mare Royal Delight ahead of British Paralympic and reigning world champion Sophie Christiansen and Singapore's most-decorated Paralympic athlete Laurentia Tan. Morganti, who also won Individual Grade 1a silver at the Games in Normandy, beat five champions to the top spot in the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) poll from the worlds of canoeing, athletics, swimming and sailing following a bumper month of global para-sport.   Since her internationa...
Saturday, August 16, 2014 - 09:16
Written By: Lindsay McCall for the USPEA
2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ U.S. Para-Equestrian Dressage Team and support staff in Aachen having a team meeting during training camp. Photo courtesy of Sydney Collier Aachen, Germany  -  The 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ (WEG) U.S. Para-Equestrian Dressage Team and Chef d' Equipe Kai Handt arrived in Aachen and began their training camp this week. The U.S. Team and Individual athletes include: Sydney Collier (Ann Arbor, Mich.) and Victoria Dugan's Willi Wesley; two-time Paralympian (2008 and 2012) and 2010 WEG athlete Rebecca Hart (Unionville, Pa.) and Schroeter's Romani, owned by Rebecca Hart in conjunction with Margaret Duprey, Cherry Knoll Farm, Sycamore Station Equine Division, Barbara Summer, The Ruffolo's, and Will and Sandy Kimmel; Angela Peavy (Avon, Con...
Saturday, August 16, 2014 - 09:16
Written By: Lindsay McCall for the USPEA
2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ U.S. Para-Equestrian Dressage Team and support staff in Aachen having a team meeting during training camp. Photo courtesy of Sydney Collier Aachen, Germany  -  The 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ (WEG) U.S. Para-Equestrian Dressage Team and Chef d' Equipe Kai Handt arrived in Aachen and began their training camp this week. The U.S. Team and Individual athletes include: Sydney Collier (Ann Arbor, Mich.) and Victoria Dugan's Willi Wesley; two-time Paralympian (2008 and 2012) and 2010 WEG athlete Rebecca Hart (Unionville, Pa.) and Schroeter's Romani, owned by Rebecca Hart in conjunction with Margaret Duprey, Cherry Knoll Farm, Sycamore Station Equine Division, Barbara Summer, The Ruffolo's, and Will and Sandy Kimmel; Angela Peavy (Avon, Con...
Wednesday, August 13, 2014 - 15:56
Written By: USEF Communications
Sydney Collier and Willi Wesley at the 2014 Adequan Global Dressage Festival CPEDI3*. Photo by Lindsay Y. McCall Lexington, Ky. - The United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) has named five horse-and-athlete combinations to the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games U.S. Para-Equestrian Dressage Team. Four combinations will serve as the Team, while one combination will compete as an Individual. The following horse-and-athlete combinations have been named to the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games U.S. Para-Equestrian Dressage Team (in alphabetical order): Sydney Collier (Ann Arbor, Mich.) and Victoria Dugan's Willi Wesley, a 2000 Warmblood gelding. Rebecca Hart (Unionville, PA) and her own Schroeter's Romani, a 2003 Danish Warmblood mare. Angela Peavy (Avon, Conn.) and Rebecca Re...
Wednesday, August 13, 2014 - 15:56
Written By: USEF Communications
Sydney Collier and Willi Wesley at the 2014 Adequan Global Dressage Festival CPEDI3*. Photo by Lindsay Y. McCall Lexington, Ky. - The United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) has named five horse-and-athlete combinations to the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games U.S. Para-Equestrian Dressage Team. Four combinations will serve as the Team, while one combination will compete as an Individual. The following horse-and-athlete combinations have been named to the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games U.S. Para-Equestrian Dressage Team (in alphabetical order): Sydney Collier (Ann Arbor, Mich.) and Victoria Dugan's Willi Wesley, a 2000 Warmblood gelding. Rebecca Hart (Unionville, PA) and her own Schroeter's Romani, a 2003 Danish Warmblood mare. Angela Peavy (Avon, Conn.) and Rebecca Re...
Wednesday, August 13, 2014 - 11:44
Written By: Diana DeRosa
Susan Treabess. Photo by Diana DeRosa The Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2014 in Normandy are just around the corner and everyone headed to the Games is anxious for everything to start. Opening Ceremony takes place on August 23rd with the actual competition beginning on the 25th. While media and spectators are packing their bags, riders and horses competing in the first week and prepping for their journey to France. On Sunday, August 10th, the Endurance and Para-Dressage riders were sharing quarters at the USET Foundation Headquarters in Gladstone, NJ. With camera in hand, it was the perfect opportunity to capture pictures and listen to the excited voices of the riders as they talked about the impending journey. The Para riders will be competing at the La Prairie Racecourse August 25...
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